In celebration of International Women’s Day, Future Women and Penguin Random House Publishing held an event in Melbourne, Australia. The event was called “One Panel, Three Feminist Authors” and featured three women who have written powerful autobiographies about their experiences of raising a transgender daughter in Australia, living with a disability and being at the centre of a controversial rape trial in the United States.
What initially drew me to the event was the appearance of Chanel Miller. Her story is one that impacted many around the world when her victim impact statement from the Stanford rape trail went viral. At the time she hid her identity and was known simply as Emily Doe but came forward late last year with her critically acclaimed memoir Know My Name.
I was delightfully surprised when I found myself not only fascinated by Miller, but also by the other two panelists Caro Llewellyn and Rebekah Robertson.
Llewellyn’s story in Diving Into Glass is an intimate look at her life growing up with a disabled father and her subsequent experience with disability after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. During the panel discussion, she spoke of the power of telling your story, owning it and being okay with it.
About A Girl author Robertson tells of the heart-wrenching experience of being the mother of a transgender daughter in Australia. She said she wrote her book in an effort to document the history of transgender rights and her family’s battle to access medical care for their daughter in the state of Victoria.
While the hardships each woman has faced because of their situations was saddening to hear, the panel had an overwhelming sense of hope and strength.
All of the authors discussed that writing their stories was a way of processing their trauma. Although they were very honest in saying that this processing was not an easy task. Miller told of how reading the transcripts from the rape trial was painful as it was the first time she was finding out what had been going on inside the courtroom since she was not allowed to be in attendance for the majority of the trail. Llewellyn said that the section of her book where she is told she has MS was written in real-time and that her words were very angry and dark. Ultimately, she decided to keep that tone in the final edit of Diving Into Glass since she thought it was important to keep the moment as raw as possible.
Robertson as well said that the court transcripts were the hardest part of writing her book because they were such hard memories to revisit. At times she would have to force herself to go through the stacks of papers in her garage, regardless of how painful it was, because she felt it was necessary to tell her story.
Yet, none of these women let the pain deter them from expressing their truths. While each had significantly different stories to tell, all of them are of experiences that can be quite isolating and lonely. As a society, we still haven’t properly learned how to support individuals who go through these situations and this is the gap that all three women felt obligated to fill.
I had been expecting to feel somewhat down after the panel since I had assumed Miller, Llewellyn and Robertson would be talking about the problems we still face and what needs to be done. As I’m sure many of you can relate to, it can be depressing to hear that society still hasn’t come as far as it should have, and people are still suffering because of it. And while this certainly was a theme, the main take away promoted by these three amazing authors is that women are not alone in their experiences. That there is someone else out there that understands exactly how you feel and that your feelings are justified and valid.
It was easy to see that taking control of their stories had made these women stronger. A sentiment that could serve many others who are struggling to find their sense of self.
If you haven’t read Know My Name, Diving Into Glass or About A Girl, please do — you’ll be happy you did.